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Hoolahan, Christie and O'Kane shine and other thoughts from Ireland's draw with Slovakia

Rob Elliot’s chances of heading to Euro 2016 were also dealt a significant blow tonight.

Hoolahan earned man-of-the-match.
Hoolahan earned man-of-the-match.
Image: INPHO

1. Hoolahan the catalyst for passing game

IRELAND’S MIDFIELD FOUND it difficult to put their foot on the ball in Friday’s win over Switzerland, with central pairing David Meyler and Stephen Quinn really struggling to control the play in particular.

Among the 10 changes in personnel tonight were the inclusions of Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Eunan O’Kane and Wes Hoolahan as Martin O’Neill went narrow with a diamond foursome.

And the difference was staggering. Whereas the team rarely played through the middle against the Swiss, there was a fluidity in possession here with Hoolahan leading the way with his invention and eagerness to make things happen.

Having come late to international football, the Norwich City schemer said in an interview this week that he will consider calling time on his Ireland career after Euro 2016 as he turns 34 this May.

Whenever the day does come, Hoolahan will be sorely missed in a green shirt.

2. Nightmare night for Elliot

Ireland strikers have been dropping like flies over the past week but goalkeeper Rob Elliot was the latest player to be struck down with injury with the game just 16 minutes old.

Rob Elliot will have been buzzing to get his chance between the sticks after working hard to produce his best season to date at club level. When Miroslav Stoch struck home the opening goal, however, Elliot’s stud got caught in the ground and he fell to the ground with what has been described as a “serious knee injury”.

Darren Randolph was called into action earlier than he would have expected and the West Ham stopper is a shoe-in to start in the first of Ireland’s Euro 2016 Group E.

It does appear to open the door for Shay Given, who could potentially profit from injuries to Elliot and Stoke team-mate Jack Butland if he gets a run in the Potters team and works his way back into the Ireland’s final 23-man squad.

3. Christie and O’Kane show promise

After watching Cyrus Christie put in an excellent display at right back, O’Neill praised the Derby County man who he described as “an understudy to an absolutely top class full-back”.

On just his fourth appearance in an Ireland jersey, the 23-year-old cemented his place as back-up to Seamus Coleman and proved that he would be a worthy option if called upon at Euro 2016.

Another player who did his chances of featuring at this level in the future no harm was Derry native O’Kane.

As he did at Bournemouth during the early stages of this season, the midfielder took advantage of an injury to Harry Arter and got game time in both of this week’s matches — and he didn’t look out of his depth before coming off on 65 minutes tonight.

France may have come to early, but expect to the 25-year-old named in squads when the World Cup qualifying campaign comes around in September.

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Ben Blake

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